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1 vote per 9 seconds - the scandal of March 29 elections

Robert Mugabe, Simba Makoni, Morgan Tsvangirai

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Mugabe calls elections for March 29

By Angus Shaw

MANY voters in Zimbabwe's cities — strongholds of the opposition — may not have time to cast ballots in upcoming elections because too few polling stations have been provided, an independent monitoring group said Tuesday.

President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's longtime ruler, is seeking re-election amid an economic meltdown, including rocketing inflation, shortages of most basic goods and collapsing public services.

The independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network said it feared a repeat of the 2002 presidential elections, when tens of thousands of voters were turned away across the country after polls closed.

A list of polling stations released by the Electoral Commission for the March 29 vote showed "a significant discrepancy" that favored the ruling party in its rural strongholds, the network said.

Even if voting hours are extended, many people are likely to be turned away when polling stations are finally closed, the group said.

No comment was immediately available from the Electoral Commission.

The monitoring group said Harare has 379 polling centers for about 760,000 registered voters, leaving an average number of 2,022 voting at each station over 12 hours. If there is maximum turnout, that gives each citizen an average of 22 seconds to vote.

In one city district, it came down to nine seconds if all 4,600 registered voters showed up.

In contrast, most rural polling stations would handle only about 600 voters each, the network said.

"It would be unfortunate if the problem of too few polling stations in 2002 is repeated," said Noel Kututwa, the group's head.

Kututwa said the number of registered voters per polling station in the cities of Gweru and Mutare was also more than double those registered in surrounding rural districts

Elections in 2002 and 2005 won by Mugabe's ruling party were marred by administrative chaos and plagued by allegations of vote rigging, irregularities in voters' lists and charges of violence and political intimidation.

Mugabe, 84, is running against a former ally, ex-finance minister Simba Makoni, and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Makoni draws his support from ruling party rebels and disillusioned supporters of Tsvangirai's fractured Movement for Democratic Change, mostly in urban areas.

Since the government began ordering the seizure of white-owned farms in 2000, production of food and agricultural exports has slumped drastically. Zimbabwe has the world's highest official rate of inflation of 100,500 percent.

Mugabe blames the crisis on economic sanctions imposed by Britain, Zimbabwe's former colonial power, and its Western allies to protest his land reforms and accuse him of violating of human and democratic rights. - AP

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